Great footballer, Pelé, turns 80 today

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EDSON Arantes do Nascimento known as Pelé is a Brazilian retired professional footballer who played as a forward, widely regarded as the greatest player of all time. Pele scored a total of 1,283 first-class goals, including 77 for Brazil. He won three World Cups, two World Club Championships and nine Sao Paulo State Championships.

The football legend was among the most successful and popular sports figures of the 20th century. During his playing days, Pelé was for a period the best-paid athlete in the world.

Pele was born on 23 October 1940, in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, the son of Fluminense footballer Dondinho (born João Ramos do Nascimento) and Celeste Arantes. He was the elder of two siblings his parents named after American inventor Thomas Edison and gave him the nick-name “Dico”.

He did not get the nickname Pele until he started school, where he used to pronounce the name of his favorite player, Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bile as Pile. Hence, a classmate of his gave him the nickname Pele. The more he complained of the name ‘Pele’ the more it stuck.

Pelé grew up in poverty in Bauru in the state of São Paulo. He worked in tea shops as a servant to augment his parents’ meager earnings. His father’s passion for football made him taught Pele to play football. His father could not afford him a proper football and usually Pele played with either a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or a grapefruit.

Pele’s first football team was formed with a bunch of friends from his neighbourhood, and they called themselves ‘the shoeless ones’.

While playing for several amateur teams in his youth, Pele’s talent was discovered by Waldemar de Brito, coach of Bauru Athletic Club juniors. Brito another great Brazilian forward, once played as a forward for several clubs in Brazil and Argentina, as well as for the Brazil national team.

Pele signed for Bauru Athletic Club juniors and led the club to two São Paulo state youth championships. Brito, took Pele then 15-year-old to Santos, and telling the club management that he was going to be “the greatest football player in the world.”

It was at Santos Football Club that Pele started his professional career in June 1956. He made his senior team debut on 7 September 1956 at the age of 15 against Corinthians Santo Andre and had an impressive performance in a 7–1 victory, scoring the first goal in his prolific career during the match. On November 21, 1964, Pele scored eight goals as Santos ran riot against Botafogo to register a monumental 11-0 victory.

Santo gave Pele a starting place in the first team and, at the age of 16 at the start of the1957 and became the top scorer in the league. Pele scored his first hat-trick for Santos against Lavras on June 9, 1957. At Santos, November 19 is known as ‘Pele Day’ to celebrate the anniversary of his 1,000th goal.

Ten months after signing professionally, Pele was called up to the Brazil national team. Pelé’s first international match was a 2–1 defeat against Argentina on 7 July 1957 at the Maracanã. In that match, he scored his first goal for Brazil aged 16 years and nine months, and he remains the youngest goal scorer for his country

At 17, Pele became the youngest ever winner of a World Cup. His first World Cup finals goal came against Wales in the 1958 quarter-final. Brazil won 1-0. He also scored twice in the final against home side Sweden. Pele’s header against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final was their 100th World Cup goal.  Tarcisio Burgnich, the Italian defender who marked Pelé in the 1970 World Cup final, said afterwards: “I told myself before the game, he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else — but I was wrong.”

After the 1974 season (his 19th with Santos), Pelé retired from the club, though occasionally play for Santos in official competitive matches. Two years later, he came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season

Pele made his first appearance for New York Cosmos on June 5, 1975, against Dallas Tornadoes. He managed to score on his debut, with the game ending in a 2-2 draw.

When Pele played for the New York Cosmos, so many of his opponents wanted to swap shirts with him that the club had to give each of their opponents a shirt after every match. “Pele was the main attraction,” says Gordon Bradley, one of the club’s coaches at the time. “Sometimes we had to take 25 or 30 shirts with us to a match – otherwise, we’d never have got out of the stadium alive.”

His presence in the USA helped boost average attendance across the league by almost 80 percent from 1975 (7,597) to 1977 (13,584). On August 1, 2010, Pelé was introduced as the Honorary President of a revived New York Cosmos.

Pele came out of international retirement to play one last game for Brazil on October 6, 1976 against club side Flamengo, who won the match 2-0. His last international game for Brazil, however, was a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia on July 18, 1971.

On October 1, 1977, Pele played his last game as a footballer as Santos played New York Cosmos at the Giants Stadium. He played the first half of the game for the American club, and the second half for Santos.

On his comparison and rivalry with Argentine football legend, Diego Maradona, Pele said in 2006: “For 20 years they have asked me the same question, who is the greatest? Pele or Maradona? I reply that all you have to do is look at the facts – how many goals did he score with his right foot or with his head?”

Pele on being a role-model said, “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pele. I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be like a man.”

The Brazilian government declared Pelé an official national treasure in 1961 to prevent him from being transferred out of the country.

In 1994, Pelé was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. In 1995, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed Pelé to the position of Extraordinary Minister for Sport, serving until 1998. During this time he proposed legislation to reduce corruption in Brazilian football, which became known as the “Pelé law.”

American artist, film director, and producer, Andy Warhol in describing Pele’s larger than life image said, “Pelé was one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries.”

While welcoming Pele to the White House, former US President White House on 10 September 1986, Ronald Reagan remarked, “My name is Ronald Reagan, I’m the President of the United States of America. But you don’t need to introduce yourself, because everyone knows who Pelé is.”

Pelé is the greatest player of all time. He reigned supreme for 20 years. There’s no one to compare with him,” was how West Germany’s 1974 World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer described Pele.

In 1999, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) voted Pelé the World Player of the Century. That same year, the International Olympic Committee elected him the Athlete of the Century. In 1999, Time magazine named Pelé one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.

In January 2014, Pelé was awarded the first ever FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur as an acknowledgment from the world governing body of the sport for his contribution to world football.

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